The stuff recipes are made of….
Milks: I like soy milk, rice milk, and oat milk.
Oils: For sauteing I use olive oil (not extra virgin, which is not suitable for high temps) or canola (a more neutral flavor than olive oil), for deep frying I use canola or corn oil and always use a deep fry thermometer. For salads I use extra virgin oil and for baking I use canola, coconut, or sunflower oil.
Vinegars: I keep a good-quality balsamic on hand for salads and for this pasta recipe. I also have apple cider vinegar for creating a buttermilk effect in my non-dairy milks (add a couple teaspoons to a cup of soy/rice milk and let sit for 10 minutes and presto you have “buttermilk”), and for this recipe which gets made with alarming frequency here. Other vinegars I like to have in my pantry are: white, white wine, champagne, sherry, and red wine vinegar.
Flours: I use spelt for almost everything these days. Every couple of months I order a 25 lb. bag from a company called Great River. For special birthday cakes I use unbleached white all-purpose flour or white swan cake flour. I occasionally mix and 100% whole wheat flour into my breads, and I also like whole wheat pastry flour for muffins and tea cakes.
Other Grains: I keep the following on hand; For baking: semolina, corn meal/flour, whole oats. For cooking and for grain salads: white basmati rice, brown rice, winter wheat berries, bulgur wheat, and quinoa. Update 6.19.11: we have smoked spring wheat here in Israel called ‘freekeh’, a new staple in my pantry.
Dried Beans etc: chickpeas for making hummus and Moroccan tagine (among other things), black (turtle) beans, and lentils (brown and red mostly). I love the texture of small white beans, and love to slow cook with beans, especially white and pinto.
Dried Herbs and Spices: although I may have up to three times the number of spices listed below, these are the ones I use most frequently:
paprika (smoked and regular)
red pepper flakes
Pure vanilla extract gets used at an alarming rate in my kitchen. Lesser used, but also worth mentioning are amaretto, almond extract, rose water and orange blossom water.
Cocoa Powder: for special things I use a high quality (read: expensive) cocoa such as Callebaut or something dutch-processed (unless my recipe specifies otherwise) and for other things, I use supermarket cocoa. In the States I mail-ordered a product called black onyx cocoa powder from The Savory Spice Shop, and would use it as a “boost” (substitute in a tablespoon or two for the regular stuff) to my supermarket cocoa powder — never as a direct substitute, it very drying and strong — amazing stuff.
Chocolate: When chocolate chips are called for in a recipe, I use chopped bittersweet chocolate. Same goes for ganache. If I need a unsweetened chocolate I use Bakers (in the States) or whatever is available.
Eggs: Whenever possible I buy large eggs, since that is what 99.999 % of recipes call for. I also try to get them from a local source that treats their chickens with a little dignity.
Yeast: I almost always use dry active yeast unless the recipe indicates otherwise. I keep it refrigerated and ALWAYS check the expiration date.
Baking soda and Baking Powder: There is a big difference between these two magical leavening agents: baking powder is baking soda with an the addition of a chemical that causes the baking soda to react in the recipe when liquid is added. In order for baking soda to react in a recipe without baking powder there needs to be something acidic like vinegar, buttermilk, lemon etc. I keep both of these on hand and also always check expiration dates. Baking soda also has a gazillion other household uses. I like to use it a cleaning (scrubbing) agent in sinks and bathtubs.
Sugars and Syrups: I love organic cane sugar and rarely buy white supermarket sugar — though I do buy standard brown sugar at the supermarket. I also use a ton of maple syrup, date honey, molasses and a little agave in my baking. I have a few recipes that call for pomegranate molasses, which you can read about here. I occasionally bake with honey and we always have it in the house for tea and for peanut butter and honey toast.
Salt: I keep kosher and table salt in the house. Sometimes we have sea salt too. Know the saltiness of your salt: kosher is not too salty, table salt is usually very salty, as is sea salt, but the varieties of sea salt differ widely.
Nut and Sesame Butters: without peanut butter and tahina, our eating life would be much less delicious. Peanut butter gets spread on homemade whole wheat bread and challah, eaten by the spoonful, and sometimes makes its way into cookies, cakes, sauces and dressings. Tahina goes into…. everything; salad dressing, hummus, cookies, sauces, dips, and anything that needs a little boost of creamy-ness and flavor.